01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: Work permits for the trailing spouse 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Work permits for the trailing spouse

Have bloodied fingers, but sent off daughter in tudor dress yesterday am. She wasn't sure about the headdress/hairband that went with it but hey ho.

I met a friend yesterday who was filling her supermarket trolley doing a weekly shop. She does this because she was being super efficient as she works, i.e. she has a job and doesn't wander around the aisled aimlessly like yours truly. I had popped in for two bottles of furniture oil, (don’t ask!) it was my second shopping trip of the morning. Last week I was showering and changing after a 9am aerobics class in the club and another expat housewife (who also has three small children) loud hailed to anyone willing to hear,
‘Must go – got to get to work – ha ha!’
‘Bully for you’ I thought a bit green faced. Nice to have a flexible job that fits around mid morning exercises. I wonder how she managed that?

I must say. When I meet a working woman (and they do pop up occasionally in our expat housewives bubble), I do feel pangs of envy. It’s their sense of purpose, usefulness, credibility, status amongst non working housewives and of course it is the all important monthly wage that I wouldn’t mind a slice of, especially now that the children are at school almost full time and therefore there's more time on my hands. In addition, though the children are in 'mixed' schools with Kenyan and expat kids, the fees are and always have been eye watering (think, UK private schools) and the traditional expat package will no longer foot the bill (unless you are extremely lucky). We could send our children to cheaper, local schools but it might involve them bringing a bucket of water with them each day and being hundreds to a class.

‘Get off your butt and get a job!’ I hear you shriek in disbelief.
‘Yes...but...’ I respond, ‘Truth is, it’s a bit more complicated than you think’.

I’ve had a few enquiries/comment from spouses who want to work while accompanying their other half to Kenya, so I will do my best to explain what is required before you can get hold of that all important work permit.

In Kenya, even to do voluntary work legally as a non Kenyan, you will need to have a work permit. There are work permits (from A to L) specifically tailored for farming, mining, manufacturing, missionary work you name it. To undertake work without one risks the status of yourself and your spouse in the country – ie. If found working without a permit then you will be deported – do not stop – do not pass go. The truth is that many people do work without a permit and the chances of them getting ‘dobbed in’ is fairly slim, but the risk is still there – particularly if you put a foot wrong or come across somebody with an axe to grind.

Quote from the Ministry of State for Immigration and Registration of Persons:
‘All non-Kenyans wishing to work, engage in business or reside in Kenya must obtain the appropriate entry permits’

My husband has an A Class work permit – he is the only expat in a business that employs 70 plus people, and my children and I have a dependants pass based on his work permit which means that we can be resident in this country. Our passes along with the work permit gets renewed by the Ministry for Immigration every two years. The renewal is not just automatic, the application is reappraised and there is always the possibility of being turned down.

To work part time, which is what housewives ideally like to do as we still want to be able to do school runs etc, is tricky. For instance, for an H class permit (self employed) you have to pay 200,000 Kenya shillings for a two year work permit (just under £2,000), then show that there is at least 100,000 US dollars in your Kenyan bank account ready to be invested locally, before a permit is granted.

One professionally qualified friend admits that her part time work will never compensate her for the work permit that she had to pay for in the first place. Another friend was offered a part time teaching job that she would dearly love to do, but it’s simply not worth her while as the onus would be on her to arrange and pay for the permit. Many are caught in this catch 22 situation.
By my reckoning you need to either be a trustafarian housewife with tons of cash or a qualified professional working almost full time to get a work permit. There is also an onus on all foreigners who have been awarded a work permit, to employ and train up others, ultimately to do your job.

You could get a job at your own embassy, but a word of warning would be that local hire jobs are not very well renumerated and should strictly speaking be given to citizens not expat spouses - I know as I tried it.

For instance, for a type A work permit can only be awarded to:
‘A person who is offered specific employment by a specific employer who is QUALIFIED to undertake that employment, and whose engagement in that employment will be of benefit to Kenya.'

In fact, starting from type A to all the way to L, each type of work permit is only granted to those:
‘..whose presence in Kenya will be of benefit to Kenya.’ And this has to be proved in a concrete way in order to get the permit.

Never mind. This is not a ‘poor little me post’ because, honestly, it is really rather a luxury to be a lady of leisure. The internet means that many housewives can do online correspondence courses - ad infinitum. Hooray for the internet! When I started out in Tanzania ten years ago, we barely had email so things have moved forward over the years. Rather then being defeatist, I think that as an expat spouse you have to resign yourself to the fact that finding ways to make money requires some serious lateral thinking.

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